ASi-5: THE TARGETED ALTERNATIVE TO ETHERNET ON THE FIELD LEVEL
Innovations always have staying power if they remove previous limitations, provide a new benefit, simplify things without compromise or reduce costs – or all of the above. And if they are available as is the case with ASi-5, the fieldbus technology for the first automation level. Only Bihl+Wiedemann offers more than 70 ASi-5 products – from ASi-5/ASi-3 gateways for a variety of fieldbus environments using self-configuring digital I/O modules, to a 1-port IO-Link master. A wide yet finely scaled product portfolio that enables perfect and future-proof automation solutions.
The need for a more efficient infrastructure grew in many fields no later than the introduction of Industry 4.0, the beginning of digitalization in machine and systems building and the advancement of intelligent sensors and actuators. Increased speed and greater data bandwidth were therefore the core development goals for ASi-5. In terms of its performance, the blossoming first three years of the technology being on the market have already shown that the new AS-Interface generation fully meets the demands on network integration for nearly any field device. This makes ASi-5 a true alternative to Ethernet solutions wherever the latter are too cumbersome and too costly. They are also often over-dimensioned in terms of transmission performance for the majority of field devices – unless extremely large quantities of data need to be transmitted at particular locations in the field, like with an HMI or a camera. Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut comes to mind. Of course even in the Ethernet field some more favorable alternatives are in development, but it remains uncertain when the gap between the controller and the field level can be closed in terms of product technology as well in order to enable a consistent Ethernet connection.
ASi-5 on the other hand already makes so much possible; the more so as the technology has long since grown out of its infancy and has been fully and intensively tested in the field. It has established itself as a valid alternative to Ethernet in numerous applications – as shown by many practical examples from intralogistics. Warehousing and material handling technology, conveying and sorting equipment, shuttle systems, picking systems, storage and retrieval systems, AGV and crane technology – equipment, machines and systems such as these, which used to require PROFINET, can now be easily equipped with ASi-5. You can already benefit today from a lean, simple and efficient infrastructure for data traffic and energy supply in the network which when needed can be adapted flexibly and without great effort or expense to new requirements. And all without compromise: the familiar functionalities and diagnostic capabilities of Ethernet are equally available with ASi-5.
The main reason for the success of ASi in general was and remains the simple wiring concept – no connectors, no pre-assembled cables, no special advanced planning effort, no significant logistic issues in the warehouse and at the construction site. The ASi cable is available by the roll and can be trimmed to length, eliminating unnecessary cable runs. The modules are connected using the unique piercing technology – vertically guided pins penetrate the profile cable to ensure a maximally safe physical and electrical contact. Extra connectors? Additional switches? Forget them all. It could hardly be more simple, flexible and cost-efficient.
… currently available Ethernet solutions at the field level? Quite a bit. A webserver for example – integrated in the gateway – can operate up to two ASi networks with up to 96 ASi modules each which for their part are able to connect various peripherals such as IO-Link devices, sensors, actuators, valves or drives. With Ethernet, each of these network components requires its own fieldbus connection, whereas with ASi-5 a single connection suffices, along with a single IP address and a single IP configuration. And the connected modules require no expensive electronics for an integrated Ethernet interface, making them generally much less expensive. All this represents an enormous savings in hardware and commissioning – especially since, on the software side, ASi-5 also offers functionalities like automatic configuration, automatic device detection, an overview of all the devices on the fieldbus, as well as differentiated diagnostic capabilities with clear help functions. In actual operation you enjoy fast, redundant data exchange with the field
Unbeatable as a wiring system and interface for the first field level, ASi-5 offers global uniformity in the “world above” as well – that is the world of programmable logic automation systems and thereby in commonly found fieldbus environments such as PROFINET, EtherNet/IP, Ether- CAT, POWERLINK or Sercos. Also onboard as a direct MES-ERP interface – for example for production planning or condition monitoring using cloud applications – is the communication and interface standard OPC UA. It is manufacturer- and platform-neutral, and can be effectively combined and used with the above fieldbuses while also supporting comprehensive safety mechanisms. Together with the ASi-5/ASi-3 gateways from Bihl+Wiedemann, ASi-5 offers full external data safety. Add to this functional as well as passive safety up to SIL3 and PLe, and you have personal protection in your system on top of it all.
It’s interesting that ASi-5 is now gaining applications that previously were – due to the lack of suitable alternatives – Ethernet domains. We have explained why this is above. The reality of it is shown in the example of a palletizer equipped with ASi-5. Installed in the machine are a total of 92 digital sensor signals for object detection, an IO-Link valve terminal with 24 valves, nine roller conveyor drives, a safety light barrier, two E-STOP buttons, two IO-Link signal lamps and an IO-Link height detection sensor. In order to network all these devices with Ethernet you would have needed the following field modules at minimum – each with its own Ethernet interface: an Ethernet IO-Link master with eight ports, eight Ethernet I/O modules and an Ethernet safety module with 8 ports and long cables to the light barrier and to the two E-STOP buttons. The cost to the machine builder would have then included not only 10 often over-dimensioned modules, but also 10 individual Ethernet interfaces – whereby some of the safety ports and IOLink ports would still have gone unused. In addition, the commissioning personnel would have needed various manufacturer- specific tools – an additional impediment that demands the corresponding expertise.
ASi-5, by contrast, needs no separate module interfaces – the Ethernet connection of the entire application is made via one single interface on the ASi-5/ASi-3 fieldbus gateway. The components are also less expensive and can be installed with far less wiring effort. Commissioning is also far simpler. For one thing just one IP address needs to be configured and the software suite from Bihl+Wiedemann automatically handles various functions in setting up the network. Accordingly, the palletizer was equipped with one ASi-5/ ASi-3 fieldbus gateway with integrated safety monitor, eight ASi-5 I/O modules, two ASi safety modules as well as an ASi-5 module with four integrated IO-Link master ports. All these devices were easily connected to the ASi profile cable using piercing technology. No special cables or expensive tees were needed – once again
The presented application proves it: the broad product range from Bihl+Wiedemann already offers the possibility to replace many Ethernet modules on the field level with ASi-5 without sacrificing any functionality or safety. Also contributing to the overall benefits are the new, self-configuring ASi-5 I/O modules with the typical short cycle time and channel-specific diagnostic capabilities, which are technologically on the same level as Ethernet or IO-Link but also offer significantly easier and less costly wiring. Likewise, the ASi-5 modules with integrated IO-Link master: compact, finely graduated in the number of ports provided and therefore generally more cost-effective compared with Ethernet-based modules. And finally, industry 4.0 concepts are often easier and smarter to implement by using ASi-5. Because, for one thing, efficient incorporation of IO-Link devices was from the very beginning a central focus in the development of ASi-5. For another, with the OPC UA server which Bihl+Wiedemann has integrated in their ASi-5/ASi-3 fieldbus gateways a future-proof interface to the IT level also becomes a standard on board.